Sunday, February 03, 2008

a new feature

At the risk of sounding immodest, I'm a pretty good cook. I can really only remember one dish I attempted that was so unpleasant we threw it away after a couple bites and went out to eat. Otherwise, I do fairly well. Last year, I made a concerted effort to start creating some of my own new recipes, with three specific goals in mind:

1. Fresh/whole ingredients
2. Low sodium
3. Great flavor

Those last two things might seem contradictory, but creative use of non-salt spices goes a very long way to that end. I went great guns with my inventions for a while, but slowed down when we bought the store, changed states, started new jobs, spent more time with the family, etc. Now, I'm getting back into it. Until I hone the next few recipes, I'm going to regale you with my favorites to this point. This one will be early dinner for Ted and me before Super Bowl tonight.

Chicken Pasta Primavera
(makes two large servings)

o 4 oz. uncooked pasta
o ½ cup carrots, cubed
o 1 cup broccoli florets
o ½ cup zucchini, cubed
o 3 large grape tomatoes, sliced
o 1 teaspoon olive oil
o ½ lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch strips
o ½ cup sliced mushrooms
o ¼ cup chopped red pepper
o ¼ cup chopped orange pepper
o ¼ cup chopped yellow pepper
o 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
o 1/3 cup light ranch dressing
o ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
o ¼ teaspoon basil leaves (dried, or 1 teaspoon shredded if fresh)
o Coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Step 1: Cook and drain pasta as directed on package – except add carrots 2 minutes before pasta is done, and broccoli, zucchini, and tomato 1 minute before pasta is done.

Step 2: While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in deep, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir until brown. Cook chicken, mushrooms, and peppers for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until chicken is no longer pink in center; remove from heat.

Step 3: Stir dressing, cheese, and basil into chicken. Toss with pasta and vegetables.

Step 4: Sprinkle plates with coarsely ground black pepper, then add primavera on top.

Note 1: Wheat pasta is a good substitute, as long as you find one that you like the flavor and texture of. If you don't like the pasta, you're not going to like the whole dish.

Note 2: Personally, I don't think it's possible to have too much basil in this dish (or anywhere in life). If you like basil, amp it up!

Note 3: Be creative with your personal choice of veggies. Fresh or frozen green peas are a great addition. I don't include them because Ted hates them with the fire of a thousand suns. Whichever veggies you choose, just bear in mind the density of each to determine whether it should be boiled with the pasta or sauteed with the chicken.

Note 4:
This dish is not low-sodium, per se, thanks to the ranch dressing and parmesan. Although I would normally recommend substituting high-sodium ingredients for lower-sodium alternatives, this particular dish is NOT the same without these two key ingredients. That said, Chicken Pasta Primavera fits easily into the recommended guideline of less than 2400 mg. of sodium per day -- as long as the remaining meals and snacks of the day are equally sodium-conscious.

There's my cooking lesson of the day. I'm off to chop some veggies.

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